Today, the people of Kogi head to the polls to select a new governor for the state, for the next four years.
Although the election has over 20 candidates, it is evident that it is a straight battle between incumbent Governor Idris Wada of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and his predecessor, Prince Abubakar Audu of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) who lost re-election in 2003.
The election is not a landmark election as the APC attempts to seize the state it won in the presidential elections in March this year and PDP fights to hold on to one of the only five states it still controls outside the South-East and South-South; it is also the first elections that are to hold under President Muhammadu Buhari and the new leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under its chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu.
As such, this will be a litmus test of the commitment of President Buhari and his party to democratic ideals by not allowing instruments of state to be used to give his party an unfair advantage. Nigeria’s electoral history is replete with scenarios where not only the INEC is compromised, but especially security forces such as the police and the military end up acting as though they were paid thugs of the ruling party. The scandal of the last Ekiti governorship elections with accusations that the military was asked to turn the other way while party thugs acted with impunity is still fresh in our minds.
Although elections have in general gotten much fairer and freer over the past five years, we cannot dismiss with a wave of our hands the possibility that the gains gotten so far can be rolled back in an instant. This is especially so in the supercharged political atmosphere Nigeria is yet to get out of since the elections, with accusations and counter-accusations between the opposition PDP and the ruling APC (and the Presidency by extension) over unsavory practices in order to perpetuate themselves in power or have an undue advantage.
It is very important that President Buhari does not interfere with the elections in anyway, and ensures that no one does so in the name of the Presidency or the party. He should also read the Riot Act clearly and loudly that anyone who interferes in the elections via extra-legal means will face the wrath of the law, irrespective of party allegiances.
The Kogi election also comes less than a month since the assumption of office of the new Electoral Commission, led by Professor Yakubu. Evidently, the new chairman is stepping into the very huge shoes of his immediate predecessor, Professor Attahiru Jega who finished his term on a high of having successfully conducted two presidential elections freely and fairly, navigating all the intrigues, threats and harassments deftly.
Although elections under INEC have taken a quantum leap forward in terms of integrity, they are still bedeviled by the problem of logistics and management. It is commonplace for elections to start way behind schedule due to lack of or late arrival of election materials, or voters being disenfranchised because their names are missing from the register.
Professor Yakubu and his commissioners needs to show that the knotty issue of logistics will be a thing of the past starting with the Kogi elections, and whatever shortcomings are quickly corrected as the Bayelsa governorship elections take place on the 5th of December.
As Kogites select a new leadership today, our greatest hope is that the elections go smoothly and are free and fair such that the results are a true reflection of the wishes of the people.
It is in only such a situation can every stakeholder in Nigeria’s democracy win.